A few days ago I rediscovered a book that I'd starting reading a few years ago, David Loy's "Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy."
It's one of the few writings on the subject of nonduality that doesn't make me want to barf up the New Age pseudo-mystical crap that almost always infects this book genre.
I talked about this in my first 2013 post about Loy's book, "Pink Panther and Alan Watts on nonduality."
I'm reading a book about nonduality by David Loy that has a pleasingly appropriate title, "Nonduality." Loy is a Zen practitioner and a university professor.
I like his style. He thinks. He analyzes. He studies the relationship between substance philosophies like Vedanta (Self is real) and flux philosophies like Buddhism (nothing is immutable).
Loy is helping me to realize that nonduality really isn't about oneness. It is about the rather obvious fact that this requires a that. And light requires dark. And self requires non-self. And life requires death. And so on and so on and so on.
Oneness is a bunch of crap. There is no such thing.
Rather, if there was, no one would know about it. Because if everything was one thing, there wouldn't be (1) a knower of that thing, and (2) that thing. There'd just be a blob of One, clueless about itself, since it couldn't be aware of itself, being all One'y.
So nonduality fanatics who make it into some sort of Oneness thing, while speaking from the perspective of their decidedly dualistic self -- they're irritating.
I've started reading nonduality books, then gotten nauseated by the bullshit being crapped out. Fodder for Amazon resale. Loy's book is different. He doesn't sound like the annoying nondualist in The Advaita Trap. (I could only watch a few minutes of the video; reminded me of the books I've hated.)
Given the time that has passed since I put "Nonduality" into a bag of books from which it has only recently emerged, I'm finding that while I like this book as much as I did before, I've got a somewhat different reaction to it.
Partly because I've dived into a lot of neuroscience books over the past few years.
Most, if not all, agree that the evidence for a detached Self sitting inside our head looking out upon the world, divorced from the brain's physical goings-on is, essentially, zero. Meaning, the brain/body is us; we are brain/body.
Which is a thoroughly nondualist notion. Yet so far as I can tell from the reading I've done, Loy's analysis of nonduality is entirely philosophical.
He delves deeply into Hindu (Vedanta), Buddhist, and Taoist texts. He also is familiar with more modern Western philosophy. "Nonduality" is based on his doctoral dissertation, so he darn well should be. But I can't help think how a chapter on what neuroscience says about cognitive nonduality would add to his book.
Of course, he wrote it in 1988, with the paperback reprint being published in 1998. This was before philosophically-minded neuroscientists started seriously pondering how research into the brain undermines conventional understanding of the "self."
As Sam Harris and others have pointed out, it's fascinating how pre-scientific Buddhists were able to come up with a philosophy (or in some respects, a religion) that in many ways reflects current scientific understanding about the brain/body and how it relates to the world.
After reading Harris' book, "Waking Up," I forked out $4.99 to watch a video of a one-hour talk by Harris, followed by an hour or so of Q&A with audience members. So far I've watched about half an hour of the video.
Good stuff. Harris does a great job condensing and simplifying a heck of a lot of philosophical, religious, and scientific ideas. His speaking style is pleasingly casual while nicely organized.
In the teaser to the full-length video, watchable here, Harris talks about our propensity to talk to ourselves inside our head as being trapped in conversation with the most boring person in the world. That inner voice, he says, keeps saying the same thing, over and over.
Harris says that when he walked out on stage, he saw water and a glass perched on a table next to the speaker's stand. "Good," he thought to himself, "they remembered the water."
Then he added a thought: "But who was I telling this to? I'd already seen the water."
This is an excellent pointer to one of the questions about nonduality. And of everyday living. To what extent is it necessary, and desirable, to divide experience -- such as into (1) someone who sees, (2) what is seen, and (3) the process of seeing?
When Harris saw the water as he walked out on stage, what really was going on? (Assuming there is such a thing as really.)
Like all of us do, part of himself told another part of himself about what another part of himself had just experienced. This leads New Age'y sorts of nondualists to decry conceptual thinking as something unnecessary that obscures the pristine pure awareness of "as it is."
But this strikes me as a bunch of crap, substituting one form of duality for another. Meaning, now we've got a duality between thinking and reality. Yet if the world truly is nondual, everything is encompassed within that mysterious notion.
Loy does a good job sorting out the philosophical subtleties of how Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, and Western writings look upon nonduality. His book isn't light reading, but I'm enjoying getting back into it.